This week I had a clear poetry dream. I woke with the words floating around me and I managed to capture a few of them in my journal. The entire concept of the poem, however, isn’t complete. I’m hoping when the school year is over and we get through graduations and parties, I’ll have time to sit and fully complete my strange little cheese grater poem. Stay tuned.
I want to thank the WordPress poetry community. You have created such a positive and safe space. I’m honored and humbled so many have read and commented on my poems. Thank you. You sure do know how to make a gal feel welcome and encouraged. I haven’t had as much time to read and comment lately, but this summer I’ll be deep-diving into all your wonderful words. There is an abundance of talent and inspiration here. Thank you for making me feel so welcome.
My offerings this week:
Free-verse poem processing my feelings after dropping my daughter off in the woods (pictured above) for her 8th-grade trip. She’ll be fine. I mean, right? Right??
Erasure poem created from a page of “A Court of Wings and Ruin” by Sarah J. Maas
Erasure poem created from page one of “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab
Both of the Erasure poems were a gift for a dear friend’s birthday. I didn’t get a great photo before handing them off, but still wanted to include the process and the words.
tiny increments of sand tiny toes and hands barely perceptible yet unbreakable changes everything changes nothing
wind, water, waves
latched together we begin as not two but one plus one merging all moments hearts beating, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
tempest tantrums force skinned feelings as two become two linked by still fused hearts beating, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
finger by finger hands pry free, move toward monkey bars and swings pushing, pulling as still hearts beat, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
warring words rage as torrential tears fall between two who don’t see how to keep hearts beating, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
standing taller than mother, biting hard at tethers outgrown, words sting eyes, burn places where hearts beat, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
spring becomes winter winter becomes spring old-growth gives way to loves eternal connection hearts beat, meeting together in time
wind, water, waves
acres and acres of sand brushes between same-sized hands barely perceptible yet unbreakable changes everything changes nothing
*Thank you Chris for inspiring me to record myself reading my poetry
Painting a lie bright pale, blooms fat sunshine, idle rose lurking, open thorns, satiny hills distance—unrelenting.
Last week, I heard Neil Gaiman and Michael Gallowglass read poetry in person. Both experiences were vastly different and I learned quite a bit about why I’m so drawn to this form of writing. It’s like a powerful treasure hunt of meaning, and when it’s done well, it lingers with you and leaves its mark.
My poetry class ended, but I think I’ll continue to share poems each Wednesday. Most likely it will be something related to my weekly short story, but I’m not going to limit myself. I hope to experiment with different poetic forms and find my own voice.
This week I’m sharing six poems. The first two are ekphrastic poems written as class assignments, the second two are free-verse poems written to accompany my short story The Red-Haired Beauty, and the final two are a nonet and triolet written as an afterthought for my latest short story Playing Games.
Thank you to everyone who continues to read my blog and give me feedback. It means the world to me.
The Blue Woods
Ancient woody arms with hunched-back shadows, press through darkness to where children walk alone.
Follow the moon with cold bare-toes pressed firm. Ignore whipping sounds clawing at innocence.
Into blinking dark night’s warm bosom, shaking-unsteady, my dearests—for nightmares aren’t real.
*This was based on looking at the cover art of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”
To Be Them
Mother says keep moving, the waters can rise up again in an instant, but I want to see twisting wires, and climb to the top like kids without parents do.
Mother says don’t question our lot, our struggling, fumbling life but the faded colors of towers built for them, mock me—joy not meant for those who look like me.
Mother says be kind, but they come to hallowed ground, our sacred birthplace. Blood mixed soil infused with ancient seawater—ancestral fragments of us, but they do not see us.
Mother says don’t hate, like brother does when we find pictures of smiling pink cheeks, white hats on colorful cars. They eat fluffed candy without thinking of who lives here.
Mother says don’t wonder what cream smothered on white skin smells like. Or how they keep clothes sparkling while screaming through steep dips. We know the real danger is us.
Mother says find things to sell them on return, but the waters might never stop coming. She still believes we need them to survive. She doesn’t see hope in me.
Mother makes more jewelry for thin necks and tiny wrists, but if they don’t return maybe they can drape my thick dark ones, and she’ll call little me beautiful too.
Mother cries for lost toys crushed by the sea. Not me. I hope they stay away, in their honey- colored love boats. So we don’t disappear back into shadows again.
*This was based on an art image of carnival-type rides fallen into disrepair
Saliva pools inside puffed pink cheeks as the squishy bubble bursts between molars, exploding juices down my scratchy throat. Burning it fizzles inside; soda pop madness, sweet as jars of candy swiped from dark corner shops while peers sit behind rows of school desks. Her face, the one swallowed by the slinky shadow creature while I walked unknowing into the wrong silent place, comes now with painful throbbing to sing words I’d heard long ago but forgotten, and to brush the stray hairs off my sticky cheek with soft fingertips. The thoughts of love once mine, unasked for but given anyway, are pinpricks of pain, nerves awakening after pinched off so long, messages to tell my body to really feel. I stuff more into my mouth, craving sensations of the forgotten, much too much, but oh how my true name echoes and changes everything.
Plucked from our icy home deep within the salty brine of life’s starting place, we slumber in grains of sand tinier than eyes can perceive. Minute flecks of light, rays of sun mixed with moonlight, we live far below scuttling claws and slippery flippers. You called us forth in an instant, brought by proximity to the shadow of The Shadow’s mark upon your soft imperfect body. We saw you weeping into our waters and felt compelled to stir and rise. We exist, persist, to seek balance between all things. Shifting, we move matter within moments with forces older than time, faster than light and sound. You can’t see until we let you the realness of your truth. The faces and moments feasted upon and stolen from you within the sacred silence it lurks behind. Teasing, we form into physical shapes, tempting you to taste of your life, plopped into waiting warm mouths, sliding into the depths of bone and muscle, wiggling and writhing—alive. We unleash captured memories to dance on the surface of your consciousness, tangos of truth you knew but which it hid within the folds of time.
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings faded yellow sweater smelling of home unknown to me except in dreams, no wings she’s waiting for me when the bell rings my name upon her lips she does sing with bluest eyes framed by glasses of chrome she’s waiting for me when the bell rings faded yellow sweater smelling of home
Mother’s Love | A Nonet
my mother knows every inch of me her child from any time or place we fold into each other her arms a warm blanket of protection from the bad dreams of shadowy death my mother heals every inch of me
While I’ve always admired and enjoyed poetry, the skills it takes to craft such beautiful imagery within the framework of a poem have eluded me. In an attempt to improve my writing all around, I enrolled in a poetry class specifically designed for fiction writers. We meet once a week and have assignments that I find both challenging and enjoyable.
I’ve decided to be transparent about my journey, as a way to chronicle my exploration and perhaps inspire others. Here’s the culmination of my first week’s work. There are three free-verse poems.
A poem critiquing something we dislike in genre fiction
A combination of the two poems
I hope you enjoy my first, clumsy attempts. As always, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.
Part I: My gimble love
we were to meet near the Tumtum grove sweetest Mimsy and I in the wabe of the bright callay moon
vorpal drunk on too much gyre and honey-wine myriad dreams rollicking, frolicking singing multitudes, manxomes, moments
yet snicker-snack, quicker-quack and outgrabe you caught me instead slithy and slimy-the ultimate uffish trickster
tying my hands with rough tulgey strands behind my burbled back whispering wicked words under frumious breath
wound and wound, like ugly bandersnatches to silence whiffling cries hands and heart knotted, cold as beamish bears
you couldn’t let violet joy breathe between sweetest Mimsy and me no, not with such a frabjous, frivolous hallow heart
oh, what will become of me, dearest mome without my gimble love stuck within the fettered borgogoves for all eternity
Part II: Too sweet for me
Super sweet taffy names sticky, pointless, giant cones of toothaches you feed them to me relentless as if more is more is more confused I throw you down and you smile and tell yourself it’s me who doesn’t get you
wheels of definitions, connections turn in place while story gets lost under sideways leanings cleverness loses characters messes mess with me wondering where did the story go
where is the truth behind the many, many words names, places, movement half-light and half-truth half right don’t tell me a lot of nothing tell me all of one thing I can believe is real
where is the soul of the sweet the ingredients of the truth the messy darkness cloudy with connections and conversations the door within the door the dream within the dream truth I can truly feel
don’t just tell of deeds done action, reaction, repeat but the why and the why and the way curiouser and curiouser deeper and deeper secret journals in watery caves monsters within who fight with gospelly fingers
give me contradictions wrapped in truth make me feel something I know make me know it again with the kind of unexpected gasp I won’t, can’t forget so when I close the book your words live inside me forever
Part III: Lover, tell me more
in the wabe of the bright callay moon you feed them to me relentless as if more is more is more confused I throw down singing multitudes, manxome, moments you smile and tell yourself it’s me who doesn’t get you
slithy and slimy—the ultimate uffish trickster turning wheels of definitions, connections sideways leanings behind burbled backs messes mess with me whispering wicked words under frumious breath to silence whiffling cries while I’m left wondering where did you go
untruths hidden behind many, many words wound and wound, like an ugly bandersnatch messy darkness stuck in action, reaction, repeat half-light and half-truth—half right vorpal drunk on too much gyre and honey-wine don’t tell me a lot of messy nothing tell me the thing I seek
unwonted discovery, hidden verity knotted, cold as beamish bears door within a door—dream within a dream secret journals in watery caves frabjous, frivolous hallow hearts monsters who fight with gospelly fingers everyone, anyone stripped naked real
let violet joy breathe between contradictions wrapped in truth lost and found within the pulsing borogoves make me feel something I know but make me know it again with unexpected gasps I won’t, can’t forget your words alive inside me
“I’m very into science-fantasy, that kind of swordfights and magic and technology thing.” -Gary Numan
“You know you can’t be here,” the guard says.
He stands wide-legged with his left hand on the hilt of his long sword. Dani tries to remember if she can recall his name and if she knows something about him she can use it to her advantage. Coming up with nothing, she tries another tactic.
“You know me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important.”
Taking a step toward him with her right sandaled foot, she presses into the slit of her silken dress so the entire length of her muscular leg shows from calf to thigh. She watches his eyes travel the length of her body, his voice wavers a bit when he speaks.
“I’ve strict orders,” he says. “You aren’t allowed anywhere near the Queen.”
His hand tightens on the hilt of his sword, steadying himself, as Dani leans forward allowing the tops of her breasts to become candlelit, the gold medallion between them catching the light and gleaming brightly. He shakes his head and takes a shuffling step back.
“I can’t,” he says. “I really can’t.”
Dani flows towards him, closing the space between them within seconds. She reaches for the guard’s rough right hand held rigidly at his side. She pulls it into her soft one and turns it over, running her thumb along the callouses. His breathing pattern changes and his shoulders and knees become soft. She presses her lips to his ear, allowing her body to fall heavily into his. He swallows loudly and she can see goosebumps prickle on his thick neck.
“I’ll be right back,” she whispers.
Slipping her body around the trembling guard, like smoke blowing from gently parted lips, she disappears into the shadows and up the wide stone steps. She’s learned to use her power like this, to lure and to distract. It’s how she befriended the Queen, and also why she’s been banned from the palace. The guard won’t follow her, and he won’t remember why. A heaviness makes her pace slow, followed by the familiar feeling of regret.
The monsters are coming. Her vision from the fire dances before her, an afterimage half in darkness and half in light. She has to warn the Queen. The ticking of a clock she can’t see surrounds her, whispering it may already be too late. She stumbles sideways and presses her palms into the cool wall to steady herself. The Old Woman told her she’d have a vision and it would change everything. She’s spent half her life waiting for the moment to occur, and when it did earlier tonight, it wasn’t at all what she imagined.
Dani was at the tavern performing one of her frequent concerts on her golden clavichord, a spectacle of purple-layered silk. The packed crowd came to hear Dani sing of the beauty and tragedy of Andromeda, chained to a rock because of jealousy. She’d begun to sing the part about the serpent slithering toward the princess when she’d glanced at the fire.
That’s all it took—one single glance. There, as if waiting for her always, was the future displayed in all its horrid brilliance. It danced within the flames, vivid and terrifying. She’d stopped playing and screamed, the drunken audience clapping as if it was part of the show. Pressing through the crowd, she’d rushed outside and run all the way to the back entrance of the palace. The fate of the entire kingdom rests on her convincing the Queen to believe in this vision, but she isn’t sure she believes in herself or if it can be stopped.
Dani feels a panic surge like bile within her gut and forces herself to continue up the dark staircase. Memory comes to her as she steps up and up in the dark on silent steady feet. She considers the nature of time and space, like old friends or playmates who either haunt or beguile you with visions of happiness or tragedy. It seems to Dani the older she gets the thinner the fabric of time seems, and the harder it becomes to distinguish memory from the truth. Words float around her. Words like crazy and cursed. She begins to think this might all be for nothing.
Perhaps what she saw in the fire had already been, a vision of evils far away and long ago. She wants to believe it more than anything, but a tugging in her chest, her heart perhaps, tells her what she saw will happen and will happen soon. Only the Queen can stop it, but after what happened between them, Dani isn’t sure she’ll listen. To hope feels childish, but it’s all she has. It’s all anybody has.
As she nears the top of the staircase she imagines the Old Woman waiting for her dressed in her tattered brown cloak, her long silver hair flowing around her, leaning on her crooked staff and singing. She’s been gone for so long, and yet the memory of her hasn’t dulled.
She’d found Dani in a mushroom patch, a dirty blonde baby smiling in a single ray of sunlight.
“My bright dandelion in the dirt,” the Old Woman called her.
As she grew, she taught Dani to play the clavichord, the instrument of wistful poets and star-struck lovers. The stringed keyboard would come alive in her tiny hands and she’d play for hours each night while the Old Woman stared into a roaring fire to read the flickering flames as if they were an open book. Dani would play and the Old Woman would sing of prophecy, destiny, and magic.
Dani smells her earthy scent and imagines her love like a mist or fog filling the dark staircase. She rushes up the final three stairs, to find not the Old Woman waiting for her, but an unfamiliar soldier in a bright, silver suit of armor. He holds a thick metal lance in front of him—a clear stop sign. She halts.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
His voice sounds echoey and deep from within his shiny helmet. Dani can see how small she looks in the reflection and tries to square her shoulders and stand straighter. The soldier presses the sharp iron lance into the flesh above her left breast. She feels the sharp point pierce the skin.
“I need to see the Queen,” she says. “It’s a matter of life and death. Just one minute with her. Please.”
“You aren’t allowed here,” he says. “She doesn’t want to see you.”
She can’t reach him through the metal, can’t touch the part of him open to her. He presses the sharp lance harder and she feels it slide further into her flesh, warm blood runs down the inside of her dress, making the purple fabric darken and stick to her body. Prickles of sweat form on her forehead and she sways slightly. She summons all her strength to stay upright.
“I must speak to the Queen,” she says. “It’s urgent. Please. Please!”
The soldier presses harder, the lance becoming thicker and thicker, widening the hole in her fabric and her body. She can feel the warm blood now on her foot and hear it dripping onto the stone floor. This man will kill her. The certainty of it emboldens her, breaking free a surge of power she usually keeps still and controlled. It whips around her, like a fierce wind, blowing out the nearest torches on the wall.
With closed eyes, she grabs the lance with both hands and spins with it still inside her body, freeing it from his grasp. He grunts in frustration and reaches for her, but she dodges him spinning and spinning in circles. She can feel his energy faintly but focuses on her own. With all she has, she pulls the lance free of her body with a sickening wet sound and a scream of pain. She staggers back from the soldier and holds the heavy lance out in front of her. Her hands and body vibrate and she opens her eyes.
“I need to see the Queen,” she says. “Please.”
“Never,” he says with a laugh. “Just look at yourself. You’re shaking like a leaf. You don’t have it in you, Dani.”
“You know me!” she says. “Please. You have to listen.”
He laughs again and she realizes he must be the Queen’s personal guard, the one who turned the Queen against her. The suit of armor and the iron lance are to protect himself from her, to make her power useless. It makes her furious, but there’s no time. She has to reach the Queen.
She lowers the lance and runs at the soldier intending to flick off his helmet, instead, the sharp point sinks into flesh she can’t see between his helmet and chest plate. Roaring, he stumbles back, teetering for a brief second, and then falls down the steps. The clattering of metal hitting stone over and over lasts for a minute and then goes silent. She can’t see the bottom.
For several breaths, Dani doesn’t move. The monsters are coming. The words slide like an iceberg inside her stomach and she spins from the staircase and into the torch-lit maze of hallways. As she walks, she tears a strip off the bottom of her dress and presses it against her bleeding wound, using the tight fabric of her bodice to hold it in place. She’s amazed that, after all this time, the path to the Queen’s room is as familiar to her as anything.
The Queen’s wide bedroom door sits ajar and Dani steps inside to find the formerly exquisite space has been transformed into a crude workshop. Gone are the beautiful paintings, the racks of dresses, and the ornate bureaus covered with sparkling jewels and crowns. Instead, long tables crowd the room in a haphazard way, filling the space and giving it a confusing and dirty feeling. Metal, wires, bolts, springs, cogs, and weights litter the tables and the floor. Dani steps carefully around the debris toward the center of the room.
Sitting in the place formerly occupied by the Queen’s four-poster bed is a wide metal barrel filled with bright orange coals. The Queen stands before it with enormous brown leather gloves covering her hands and forearms. Her golden hair, dirty and dull looking, is tied at the nape of her neck with a piece of leather. She’s wearing a soiled pair of dark pants and a matching shirt.
As Dani watches, the Queen pulls a rectangular piece of hot metal heated to a dull red color from the coals and carries it to a curved piece of black iron sitting on an old tree trunk. She grabs a wood-handled hammer and begins pounding the hot metal. She turns and hits, turns and hits. Dani inches a few steps closer, and the Queen looks up. Her eyes widen for an instant and her mouth looks about to form words, but instead, she looks away and returns to her pounding.
Dani feels weak from the heat, the acrid smell of the burning metal, and her recent blood loss. Her power is completely drained, she steps carefully through the chaotic room until she finds a pile of dirty furs laying in the far corner. They smell of wet dogs, but she lowers herself onto them anyway. The Queen continues to work for several more minutes before suddenly slamming the metal onto the floor and kicking it across the room with a loud clatter. It lands inches from Dani’s face.
The Queen pulls off her gloves, throws them on the floor, and walks to Dani with loud, heavy steps. Hands balled into fists at her sides, she towers over Dani and presses her lips tight together. The Queen’s eyes, as blue and beautiful as Dani remembered, sweep over her bloody wound but the expression on her face doesn’t change.
“What do you want?” she says.
Dani tries to stand but finds her entire left side is now weak. Instead, she attempts a smile, which isn’t returned.
“I miss you.”
Dani regrets the words the second she says them. The Queen makes a strangled sound and takes a step back. She grabs the material of her pants and twists it in her hands. There are tears in her downcast eyes and when she speaks it’s a low hoarse sound spoken through a tightly clenched jaw.
“Get out. I don’t want you…here.”
The pause between the words feels important, and when Dani answers she speaks softly and carefully.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t come to fight with you. I’ve come because…well, I’ve come to warn you. The kingdom’s in great danger.”
“It was, when you were here,” her words come out in an angry rush. “ You have no power now and I have no use for you. Get out!”’
She continues to stare at the floor and her hands are fists again.
“No, you don’t understand. I saw a vision in the fire…”
She’s told the Queen of her days with the Old Woman and her prophecy, and they make eye contact for a brief moment. It’s a flash, a slight lowering of the defenses Dani used to live behind, a softness of her features, and a small parting of her lips. Dani reaches a hand toward her and the Queen kicks it with her heavy booted foot and spits on the floor. It hurts. There’s no love left and Dani wishes she’d never come back to the palace. She should have gone far away like she asked. This has been a terrible mistake.
Sobbing, Dani manages to pull herself into a seated position. The pain radiates across her body to her right side. She swallows sour sickness in her mouth and tries again. She must make her understand.
“Please,” Dani says. “I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am for all of it, but this isn’t about us. The kingdom is in great danger from…”
“From what?” the Queen says looking at the floor.
The Queen doesn’t shift or even look up. Dani realizes she has no words to describe her vision and feels the horror of it rush through her. She should have thought of this, of how she’d have to convince her, what she’d say. She’d expected a flicker of love to be there, a tiny flame she could blow on and use to get the Queen to listen. She didn’t count on the iron lance or the Queen to look and act so differently.
She’d fully underestimated her heartache, the pain she’d caused with her betrayal, and the way it has transformed the once young and trusting Queen into this strange woman in front of her. It had all happened so fast and she’d not had a chance to explain. Now, it’s too late. The monsters will come and so will the piles of bodies. She can’t stop any of it.
The Queen stares at the floor for a few minutes further, sighs loudly, and then stomps across the room to one of the long work tables. Dani tries to summon something within herself to move, to get out of here, but there’s nothing left. She’s never felt this empty and helpless before. She’s numb and terrified.
There’s a series of flashing and popping sounds across the room followed by a loud creak and stomp. Steam fills the already hot room, smelling of oil and metal. Dani can’t see anything until the Queen returns with an odd-shaped soldier at her side.
He’s roughly the size and shape of a man but covered in darkened curving brass. A bright yellow dandelion is stamped in the center of his chest, the stamp the Queen would press into the letters she’d write and stuff under Dani’s pillow at night. The stamp was created to represent their love and friendship. For a brief second, she thinks it’s a message of reconciliation. A symbol of hope.
Then she looks at the face of the soldier and where the eyes should be are giant slats looking into the darkness, a void of nothing. Realization hits her and Dani covers her mouth in a silent scream. The Queen’s lips curve into a chilling smile.
Fear beats within Dani like a second heartbeat. She can feel the two rhythms warring within her chest, a battle for her body. She begins to shake violently, and her breath comes in tiny raspy gasps.
“The monsters…” she whispers.
Looking around the room she can see what she didn’t before. The piles of metal and debris are parts. Body parts. There’s a pile of bronze legs on one table, several heads on another, arms and torsos scattered here and there. The Queen’s smile widens as the metal guard bumbles toward Dani with rigid, robotic steps. With much creaking, the bronze soldier lifts Dani into its hollow arms. Peering into the dark slats, she can see there’s no man inside the machine.
“The monsters…” she says again.
The Queen laughs as the metal man carries Dani’s limp body out of the room and into the maze of hallways. Dani touches the dandelion stamp with her fingertips and watches it disappear and reappear as they pass the torches on the wall. If she’d understood earlier, maybe she could have done something. If she’d patched things up years ago, maybe she could have stopped it. The Old Woman told her the vision would change everything.
Dani’s realization has come too late.
The monsters are here.
She will be the first to die.
The bodies will be piled in the courtyard.
Author’s note: Science fiction and fantasy are my two favorite genres. I mixed them together this week with this strange little fairytale of visions, monsters, and lost love. The idea for the robotic soldier came from years of exposure to Steam Punk and researching the story of the Ancient Greek robot Talos. I also researched the oldest instrument with a keyboard and was happy to find the quiet beauty of the clavichord. If interested, you can watch someone play music on a clavichord from late 16th or early 17th century Italy. Thank you, as always, to everyone who takes the time to read my short stories. Your comments make my day and keep me going on this crazy journey. I wouldn’t press so hard to find the story if it wasn’t for you. Your support means the world.
Short Story Challenge | Week 14
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where something bad is about to happen but nobody believes the main character. We had to include the words Andromeda, stop sign, dandelion, iceberg, spectacle, poet, candlelit, keyboard, bumble, and robotic.
I don’t remember driving or getting out of my car. I’m running down the narrow tree-lined trail as if speed or distance could remove his words. They stick to my body and crawl across my skin. I pump my arms and push harder. My sandaled feet slapping against the trail send up little puffs of dirt, and smoke signals to nobody. He wishes I’d leave for good. Maybe I will.
My toe catches on a twisted root and I tumble forward, landing on my side. My head smacks a rock with a painful thud. I suck in air for a few breaths until it finally reaches my lungs and burns. Lightning bolts of pain flash in my temples and down my left side. Shuddering, I blink repeatedly to return focus to my eyes.
The sudden sound of music alerts me to the fact I’m not alone and I sit straight up. It’s a wooden flute playing a soft earthy melody, calling and calling. I stand and leave the trail. Pulled and lulled I move as if half-asleep, or half-drugged, toward the gentle notes.
The trees and the music collide to hide the creatures I can now sense close by me. The veil pulled thin as if half-wanting to reveal to me what I know with certainty lies hidden in the murky darkness. I hear them as rustling leaves and cracking twigs. They play peek-a-boo in the dimness, breathing and watching me as I pass.
A fracture of light bursts through a tree branch and blinds me temporarily; the glint off the horn of a unicorn perhaps or the gleam of gold held tight in the fist of a greedy leprechaun. I squint as I feel my way forward with outstretched hands and pointed toes. Cool darkness surrounds me, wetting my clothes and my head…or is it blood?
The creatures continue to swirl at the edges of my vision, not allowing me to see their full shapes or forms. Fairies with backpacks of magical delights dance through the shadows moving with the music, taunting and teasing with giggles I can almost hear. Darker, deeper creatures of warts and madness peek out from beneath rotten logs threatening to pull me toward them, into the cool, moist ground.
I jump as hundreds of birds burst from the trees around me, erupting into a swirling, pulsing black mass of cawing and tweeting. They fill the yellow fireball sky of sunset—a dark cloud of mass exodus. Raising my arms out I wish to sprout wings and follow them into the near night, but the sound of the flute stops me. The pitch and tempo have shifted, matching the frenzy of the birds, drawing me back toward the invisible pied piper hidden deeper and deeper into the woods.
I’m drawn forward by a tugging within my body that I can’t explain, a burning cavernous flame in my core. A part of my mind feels the absurdity of it and wonders if I’m laying on the forest floor bleeding out. I think about the fight with my husband, the horrible things we said to each other and didn’t mean. Our past, our history, and our life together feel twisted and entangled. If I could unravel it, what would be left of me?
Mischief and enchantment lie covert and waiting as I step into a clearing of tall weeds and see a magnificent green willow tree before me. The source of the music hides behind its sweeping branches which move as if dancing to the sounds. Nausea punches through me and I stop as the familiar scene plays out in front of me. I’ve been here before. The air stills and I can sense him watching me with all-seeing eyes of practiced seduction.
He crawls forward through the long, dark branches, emerging first with a great bronze shoulder and a deep green eye. Swaying in place for a moment, the half-lit creature of my dreams made flesh again, I shudder. My body knows him and heat rushes through me, bringing painful longing below my belly button, a primal and ancient ache I feel in my breasts and lips.
The music slows as collar bone, second shoulder, second eye, and golden hair come into view with a seductive ooze; liquid and solid, warmth and ice. He unfolds his body and stretches cat-like to a standing position, his hands and lips continuing to play the wooden instrument, the sound slowing and slowing until it’s deep and breathy like him.
I step toward his warmth, and he lifts his chin in welcoming remembrance. The memory of hands and lips on flesh burns and burns until I’m shuddering and aware my breath now comes in tiny gasps. With snooping and pitying eyes he stares into me and I know the time for choice has arrived.
He is time itself, the choice of life continued or life restarted. The reset of all things. The wheel of life spins before me, spun by him, but the final decision remains mine. It’s been this way before and it will be this way again. I feel the truth of it course like passion, like lust, and I sway with the music to the tension of decision.
The web of choices pours from his flute singing of the doors I’ve opened and closed, connections forged or severed, moments linked by a series of yeses and noes. My husband’s blue eyes swim before me too, the link of our combined paths entwined from years of sharing decisions and bodies, for better or for worse. The tug of the past and the pull of fresh starts war within me with cannon blasts and fire.
Running my hands down my heavy body I feel the effects of eating sadness for every meal and I want to tear the extra flesh from the bones. I twist uncomfortably and see his eyes following my hands, feasting on my self-hatred and tasting my unhappiness. He swells larger and the strength of his gravitational pull increases.
Time slinks toward me with a smirk of satisfaction around his pursed lips. He feels the moment coming, the giving up of this flesh and returning to him. He circles me now as the breathy notes fall around me slower and slower, winding toward me and the moment of finality I know will come in an intake of breath. He smells of fresh starts, like a thousand showers, the deepest part of the ocean, and fresh-turned soil.
Inevitability weakens me, but at the last moment, I turn from him and run. My head explodes as I crash through the trees.
I’m not ready yet.
Author’s note: I’ve written many versions of this story, including my latest manuscript during NaNoWriMo last November. The storyline of wanting a mythical and romantic character to sweep in and take away all my troubles returns to me again and again. When the going gets tough, I dream of being rescued. My Prince Charming, however, always comes with a dash of fear, magic, and some makeup.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise my favorite film of all time is “Labyrinth.” I often like to envision David Bowie/Jareth coming to rescue me and giving me all the things I say I want. Of course, like Sarah, I’d probably refuse his offer and fight my way through the Goblin City and back toward the family I love.
I hope you enjoyed this take on the rescue story, with the “he” being the seductive personification of time. I’d really love to know what you think in the comments below, and thank you for reading.
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a hike through the woods. We had to include the words leprechaun, covert, fireball, snoop, wart, pity, backpack, practice, nausea, and collar.
Elle leans on the black metal railing in front of the train station in a lopsided blue hat, matching blue shirt, and bright red bow tie. There are two round white buttons at her waist. She places her gloved hand on top of a small boy’s head to mess up his hair and he giggles.
Click. Click. Click.
A girl in a twirling pink princess dress runs at top speed and almost knocks her over. Elle saves the moment, catching her and doing a sort of silly dance. They turn to face the camera together, a whirl of happy motion.
Click. Click. Click.
All pacifier and big eyes, a terrified toddler hides in his stroller clutching a stuffed mouse to his face. Elle gets down on one knee and plays peek-a-boo behind her gloved hands until he warms to her. He gives her a high-five and smiles for the camera.
Click. Click. Click.
A group of teenagers in the crowd yell out they love her and Elle makes a heart shape with her hands and presses it toward them. She waves and waves as children pass by her, the joy contagious and beautiful. Smiling, she hops on one foot and then the other, until she spots Greg off to her right with a clipboard in his hand. He’s writing and she feels herself deflating.
Everyone knows when Greg comes to watch your shift it means one of two things; promotion or firing. Elle tries to ignore him, but her eyes keep returning to his dark handlebar mustache, blue pinstripe suit, and bright white cummerbund. His pen stays in motion.
She can’t help but think about her now ex-roommate Britney. Greg visited her a few weeks ago during her final performance of the day and afterward released her. He said she “didn’t have the right energy” and “looked off-brand.” In an instant, her dream of being promoted to a face character ended. It broke her.
Elle found her sobbing on the locker room floor. They took a bus to a small diner far from the tourists and Britney cried into her cheeseburger for a long time, her snot congealing with ketchup to form a stream of gross gunk down her face.
“How dare he do this to me! I’ve worked so hard!” Britney sobbed. “Greg’s a monster!”
“It’s not rocket science, Elle! I don’t know why he makes it out to be so difficult. I didn’t do anything different today than I’d been doing for two years. It makes no sense. I deserve to be a princess! He was never going to give me a fair shot.”
Elle had worked beside Britney a few times, and although she’d never say it to her face, she understood Greg’s decision. Britney felt she deserved better, begged for it all the time, and didn’t put much heart or enthusiasm into her current role. Elle felt a mix of sadness and relief watching Britney stuff her blow-dryer into the top of her packed wheelie bag and walk out the apartment door.
Click. Click. Click.
A large family approaches and Elle lies on the ground in front of them, as she’s been taught. It’s the only way to make the large group photos work. She knows her poses are correct, but Greg writes and writes on his clipboard and she can’t imagine what he could be writing.
“Fails to be perfect.”
“Not good enough.”
Elle gets the signal and follows her handler to the cast room. She waves and does a little dance until she’s fully out of view. Although she can’t see him, she knows Greg followed. As she removes her giant head and gets a drink of water, he walks in smiling.
“Wonderful job Elle,” he says.
“You know why I’m here, right?”
Elle doesn’t want to make any guesses, so she shrugs and smiles. He smiles back.
“I know you have been waiting for this, so I wanted to tell you in person. You have done it, Elle. Congratulations. You are now friends with Snow White.”
He hands her a red hair bow and she rubs the satin with her fingers.
“You will begin your training next week,” Greg says.
Elle finishes up her shift, 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off until the park closes. It isn’t until she walks back to her apartment, the full moon bright in the sky above her, that it hits her. For as long as she can remember, her mother has dreamed of her playing Snow White at the Happiest Place on Earth. She’d told Elle it was her destiny because of her pale white skin, dark black hair, and red lips. There wasn’t any other plan for her and now she’s done it.
She should call her mom. She should celebrate. She should be happy. All the shoulds feel wrong.
She takes a hot shower, slips into soft pink pajamas, and runs her hand along her bookshelf until she finds the well-worn book of pastel drawings, the soft cloth binding frayed slightly on the edges. She flips to her favorite page marked with a red silk ribbon, a beautiful painting of a garden filled with bluebells and snowdrops. Written in her neatest handwriting along the bottom are the words, “Snow White’s Garden/My Garden.”
She remembers writing those words when she was 10 years old, the year her mother gave her the book and told her she would become Snow White. Elle loved the idea. It made her feel special and loved. She practiced singing and talking until she could mimic Snow White as well as anyone. Her mother would beam with pride watching her.
When she was 18, they drove across five states to California for the auditions. On the drive, her mother opened up a bit about her own life, something she rarely did. She told Elle she’d been a model her entire childhood and teenage years, and how she’d been on the cover of hundreds of magazines and traveled all over the world.
“But my mother didn’t protect me, Elle,” she’d said. “And people hurt me. Lots of people hurt me. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Her mother stayed for several months after Elle got hired, and pressed hard for her to be Snow White. Elle understood she had to put in time as other characters, and she didn’t mind at all. She enjoys slipping on the costumes and transforming into the beloved characters of the park. The ritual of it, the tears of joy, and the infectious laughter make Elle feel whole.
The day her mother finally left for home, she’d squeezed Elle painfully tight to her and sobbed into her shoulder. They’d never spent time apart and Elle was a bit terrified of being on her own, but also excited. She felt it was time for her to make her own decisions and friends—something she’d not done her entire life.
“Promise me you’ll be okay,” her mother said, black mascara running down her cheeks.
“I’m okay mom,” Elle said. “I’ll be okay.”
She wasn’t sure she would be, and on the first night alone with Britney in the apartment she’d spent a long time crying in the shower. She wondered how she’d manage to feed herself, work until late at night, and do her own laundry. It felt overwhelming, but Elle surprised herself. She found a rhythm, made friends, and discovered she was more than capable of caring for herself.
Now, with Britney gone, Elle realizes how much she loves being alone with her own thoughts. She’s taken up reading, painting, and baking. On her days off she meets friends at the park, goes for a run, or has friends over to play games. Her life has become full and her own.
Her mother calls her at 5 a.m. every morning, and Elle waits up for her call. It’s always the same questions, rapid-fire and breathy from her anxious mom.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you Snow White yet?”
“Who can I talk to?”
Elle brews herself a cup of mint tea and snuggles under a blanket. She looks around the room at her place and feels a swelling of pride. It’s been two years since her mother left, and Elle loves her life. She thinks about how wonderful it feels to see children light up at the sight of her and how often their joy brings her to tears. Snow White may have been her original dream, her mother’s dream for her, but it doesn’t fit her. It’s not what she wants.
Elle takes a sip of tea and picks up her cell phone. It’s her life, she thinks and smiles.
“Sorry to call so early, Greg, but I’ve been thinking about the offer and I’d like to decline. I love my current role and I wonder if I might keep it.”
“Are you sure, Elle? You’d make a fantastic Snow White.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Okay, then. See you tomorrow.”
She sips her tea, watches the sunrise through her front window, and happily waits for her mother’s call.
Author’s note: As you may have guessed, I spent the week in Disneyland celebrating my nephew’s 3rd birthday. It was a wonderful whirlwind of a trip! There was very little time for writing and thinking, but I did manage this short story written late at night with sore feet and a full heart. I hope you enjoyed it.
Short Story Challenge | Week 11
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where the main character thinks he or she is about to get fired. We had to include the words magazine, blow-dryer, congeal, bluebell, cummerbund, wheelie bag, pastels, cheeseburger, binding, and science.